Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

Nature tells us everything.

Last week I remarked that I had not taken many ‘walks in the woods’ this autumn as I had hoped.
This weekend I began to right the situation.
Mary and I walked to the back of the farm, about a kilometer, to have a look at the small hardwood bush that we have standing back there. I had been cutting up a fallen green ash tree that was 97 years old, as per the number of rings that I counted. Wow. That is a lot of struggling to push through the undergrowth and reaching past its’ fellow hardwood trees for sunlight.
Not to mention that it survived the rigors of wind, thunder and rain, ice and squirrels (just thought that I would throw that in). I believe that the old ash has earned a special place in my woodpile, where it will fuel the fires of our air-tight stove this winter on many a cold evening.

So, we think we know something about competition.
Well, if the trees in the forest could only talk, eh?

We had the large trees on our 10 acre garden fertilized this past week. Jim Mastin of Noble Tree Service remarked that the mulch that my guy Rudy had mounded around the base of the trees was a few inches too deep. You can actually smother a tree to death by covering up the bottom couple of inches of bark on the main trunk.

“Look at what Mother Nature does in the forest, if you want to know how to mulch trees. Note that the leaves on the ground never extend past the flare of the root at the base of the tree” he said.

Standing in our small bush we could see that he is dead on.

This reminds me of something that I have heard and repeated many times, while talking about the principles of great gardening: When in doubt, look to Mother Nature for the answers.

On another topic, I was in Shediac, New Brunswick 2 years ago, about this time, with CTV and Home Hardware. We were celebrating the new backyard improvements of Wilt and Andree: the winners of the $50,000 Ultimate Backyard Makeover contest that we ran last spring.
It is amazing what $50,000 can buy you in outdoor improvements. The winners chose to include an extended deck made of a new composite cedar/plastic material that will never need painting, does not require nails or surface screws and is guaranteed for 25 years. Cool.

The backyard makeover also included a new gazebo, otherwise known as the ‘west nile room’ as it is completely mosquito free. It has electrical service, insulation and double glazed windows too. It is really a ‘3 season’ room. And a great ‘doghouse’ for Wilf for those days when his beloved needs a wide berth. Don’t get me wrong, Wilf seems like a very nice guy and Andree a delightful person who, I am sure is very easy to get along with. But I have learned in 28 years of marriage that we all need our space, from time to time.

I was reminded while in Shediac, where old man winter is inching closer, faster than he is at my home in Stouffville, Ont. Now is the ideal time of year to protect your young fruit trees from rodent damage with one meter long plastic spirals. The enemy in this case consists of mice, rabbits and rats that will find a meal of tree bark on an apple, pear, peach or you name it, including many ornamental trees like crabapples are quite tasty come mid winter.
These critters will get so desperate for sustenance come January that the bark of a tree that is 5 years or younger is mighty tempting indeed. Put your spirals on before the snow seriously gets going in your area.

Upright evergreens need protection from wind and sun. Wrap up in two layers of burlap. Or the newly redesigned Mark’s Choice Mummy Wrap at Home Hardware. (item# 5094-519)

A reminder that rhododendrons and yews (taxus) need to be protected from wind and sun too. The burlap treatment is useful, plus I recommend that you spray them with an anti-desiccant called ‘Wiltpruf’. (item# 5097-806)

Also, this is a good time to feed the birds, if you are not already doing it. Who, after all, does not have an unused bird feeder in the garage or basement? Get to it now, while you still have a chance to influence the choice of feeding stations that your neighbourhood song birds will frequent come mid winter.
Yes, our fine feathered friends are creatures of habit, much like ourselves.
You won’t regret your decision when the snow is lying hip-deep.

Have you winterized your roses yet? A reminder (yes, I mentioned this last week) to get to it before the Grey Cup game, if only to reward yourself by settling down into the couch with a beverage of choice while watching whoever smash up someone else whose name you do not know, unless of course you were watching the CFL before the final game of the season. The point is that wasting some time in front of the tube is your reward for doing something useful in the garden when it is generally not very tempting to be out there doing physical work.

Note that the snow has not really fallen in earnest (i.e. it hasn’t stuck to the ground much) in most parts of the country. You have the opportunity to look out of the window of your favourite room in the house and observe the space in your imagination. Take some snap shots of it in your mind as you imagine how it will look come spring. And summer. And for years to come. Imagine a sequence of colour from one end of the gardening season to the other. Imagine bird song and butterflies. Imagine entertaining guests, “Oh yes, it was nothing really. Just years of planning, digging, weeding, deadheading, extravagant expense and the divorce over it all was just a bump in the road.”
o.k. – don’t get carried away with this.

Just remember the rule, “Look to Mother Nature for cues.”
It works every time.

Keep your knees dirty,